Tsundoku Digest: March 22, 2019

Here are some tabs I’ve left hanging in my browser this week:

A beautiful visual guide to Starbucks Japan’s new mecca in Nakameguro.

The Worth It crew gets to eat pre-packed A5-grade wagyu beef, but my gut feeling is that they merely encountered a shrewd entrepreneur who packs random luxury food items into beautiful wooden lunch boxes and sells them for a huge markup to tourists in Nikko (if anyone even can afford it).

This song literally speaks to two types of exchange students: American dipshits who try their luck every night in Roppongi, and timid Japanese nerds who are too scared to speak English in American college classrooms. The lyrics are literally bilingual: you hear either a Japanese or (and?) an English-language voice speaking to you at the same time. It’s really jarring. I love it.

I wished I traveled to Peru for spring break once upon a time.

Eight years later


Today marks eight years since the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

I intend not to replace the immediate, intimate, and introspective accounts of the disaster. But 3.11 has become part of the mass media consciousness, if not the national consciousness—as this manga from Inio Asano serves as an allegory to. At the risk of relating the disaster to Tokyo when really the devastation it brought to many people’s lives has little to do with Tokyo—except, perhaps, for reduced electricity consumption and having fewer trains run for a while—train companies in Tokyo pull off an annual stunt to stop every single train on their network at the moment the earthquake struck, while Yahoo Japan tells everyone, especially people in Shibuya, to remember by typing “3.11” into their search engine. And what was the minister for reconstruction thinking when he said, with television cameras rolling, that he was relieved that it happened in Tohoku, because if it was anywhere closer to the Tokyo metropolitan area, the economic loss to Japan would be much greater? And what is wrong with people who bully children fleeing from Fukushima to Tokyo?

Further reading

  1. The Asia-Pacific Journal’s Japan’s 3.11 Earthquake, Tsunami, Atomic Meltdown Article Index
  2. Christopher Thouny and Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto (eds), Planetary Atmospheres and Urban Society After Fukushima (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017)
  3. Eiko and Koma, A Body in Fukushima
  4. Matthew Komatsu, After the Tsunami (2019)
  5. Mori Art Museum, Catastrophe and the Power of Art (2018)
  6. Richard J Samuels, 3.11, Disaster and Change in Japan (Cornell University Press, 2013) (official site for the book)
  7. Asahi Shimbun, 朝日新聞縮刷版 東日本大震災 特別紙面集成 2011.3.11~4.12 (Asahi Shimbun, 2011)
  8. Kahoku Shimpo, 河北新報のいちばん長い日 震災下の地元紙 (文春文庫, 2014)
  9. Ryu Honma, 原発プロパガンダ (岩波新書, 2016)
  10. Kyosuke Shinnami, 牛と土 福島、3.11その後。 (集英社文庫, 2018)
  11. Takashi Soeda, 東電原発裁判―福島原発事故の責任を問う (岩波新書, 2017)
  12. Sugiyama University, 「6枚の壁新聞」から1年 (2013) / Courrier, 「壁新聞」発行で震災を乗り切った石巻日日新聞から、クーリエが学んだこと (2017)
  13. Yoko Tawada, 献灯使 (講談社文庫, 2017), published in the United States and translated by Margaret Mitsutani as The Emissary (New Directions, 2018)
  14. Retsu Wakasugi, 原発ホワイトアウト (講談社文庫, 2015)
  15. Yusuke Yamashita, Takashi Ichimura, and Akihiko Sato, 人間なき復興: 原発避難と国民の「不理解」をめぐって (ちくま文庫, 2016)

The Week: “The plight of Japanese Peruvians in America”

Natasha Varner for The Week:

In the immediate aftermath of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the FBI made its first arrests of Japanese American leaders and held them in detention facilities and jails across Hawaii and the West Coast. The panic spread to Latin America too, and within 48 hours blacklists of Japanese businessmen, community leaders, teachers, and others appeared in Peruvian newspapers.

The U.S. government under president Franklin D. Roosevelt had already been surveilling Nikkei, people of Japanese descent, for years in the U.S. and in Latin America. Central and South American presidents tried to win the favor with the U.S. its allies by allowing FBI agents to be stationed at embassies to generate lists of those they deemed “suspect.”

(Thanks to Kiki Shim for sharing!)

Some thoughts on Neo Yokio

A few weeks ago, I finally sat down to watch Neo Yokio: Pink Christmas, a Netflix show created by Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend.

During my undergraduate years, I spent a not insignificant amount of time in an office reeking of human fluids intimidated by people who actually knew how to write about pop culture. Nonetheless, I would like to share a few words about this show.

Continue reading “Some thoughts on Neo Yokio

Tokyo MX: Chocolates to treat yourself on Valentine’s Day

How have Ginza’s department stores been preparing for The Big Day this year? According to this report by Tokyo MX:


More and more women are now buying chocolate for themselves. It’s said that they are beginning to treat Valentine’s Day as a “Treat Yourself Day”. Products specifically designed to appeal with female customers, such as multicolored packages that look like gemstones and beauty care chocolates filled with acai and chia seeds, are the ones that stand out most this season.

NYTimes: “Japan’s Working Mothers: Record Responsibilities, Little Help From Dads”

Motoko Rich, Tokyo bureau chief for the New York Times, in a bilingual article on modern motherhood:

Consider Ms. Nishimasa’s daily routine. The preschool her two youngest children attend requires the family to keep daily journals recording their temperatures and what they eat twice a day, along with descriptions of their moods, sleeping hours and playtime. On top of that, her 8-year-old son’s elementary school and after-school tutoring class require that a parent personally signs off on every homework assignment.

The paperwork, of course, is just the beginning. There is cooking, cleaning and laundry, often at a scale that far exceeds what most Westerners do. Cooking a typical Japanese dinner often involves preparing multiple small dishes. Packed lunches can be works of art. Dishwashers are not yet ubiquitous. And as for laundry, few families own dryers big enough for large loads, so wet clothes are generally hoisted on clotheslines.

She does the vast majority of it all.

This article contains no exposés or clichés about Japanese society. Rich quietly observes these exhausted moms. Perhaps she already knows, from the outset, that misogynistic bosses, preschool pressures and absent husbands are nothing new.

Three and a half years after Shinzo Abe told the world that Japan needs to make their women and elderly work before accepting any refugees, nothing has changed, and nothing might ever change. And that is the real tragedy that this article speaks to.

Reuters: “‘Fear’ and ‘favor’ chill newsroom at storied Japanese paper”

Mari Saito and Ami Miyazaki on an appalling right-wing attack on the editorial integrity of The Japan Times, an English-language newspaper which is under new ownership:

In the past, the Japan Times described Korean workers as “forced laborers” and comfort women as those “forced to provide sex for Japanese troops before and during World War II.”

But the five-sentence note published on Nov. 30 said the country’s oldest English-language paper would refer to Korean workers simply as “wartime laborers.”

It would be disappointing if the paper’s new editors bend to the non sequitur of equating honest criticism of Japan’s shameful past with Japan-bashing.

The executive editor of the Japan Times, Hiroyasu Mizuno, told staff in the December meeting that he had two goals: to avoid creating the perception the paper was “anti-Japanese,” and to increase advertising revenue from Japanese companies and institutions.

Some readers said the change glossed over Japan’s wartime actions.

Prominent Japanese conservatives, meanwhile, applauded the move, calling it a coup for nationalist activists agitating for English-language news outlets to change such descriptions.

Why are all the people in power supporting all the wrong causes?

Barbara Greene: “High School of the Dead and the Profitable Use of Japanese Nationalistic Imagery”

The abstract of Barbara Greene’s latest article in the latest issue of the electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies:

The horror manga series High School of the Dead, which ran from 2006 to 2013, is notable for its manipulation and allusions to a variety of militarist or ultranationalist imagery. The ultimate goal of this decision remains obscure. The two artists involved, particularly the late Satō Daisuke, are known to have a personal interest in Japanese military history or war-focused media and allegedly held views that aligned with those of the Japanese ultra-Right. However, an interest in military history and contemporary weaponry does not predicate that one is sympathetic towards the further loosening of restrictions on the Japanese Self Defense Force or to arguments in favour of Imperial Japanese military actions.

Within the series itself, however, numerous narrative and character choices appear to support the ideologies of the Japanese ultra-Right. The defense alliance between the United States and Japan repeatedly fails in the wake of global catastrophe, leaving Japan open to attacks from mainland Asia. Members of the Japanese Self Defense Force and special police, unlike their overseas counterparts, are the only effective parts of the Japanese state to survive in a zombie apocalypse. Ultra-nationalists, rather than the government, create effectively defended refugee camps.

However, while the series initially appears to support ultra-nationalist ideologies, this may be a strategy utilised by the authors to distinguish their work in an oversaturated market. By artificially sparking controversy around their work, the authors ensured that they reached several target audiences, such as buki-otaku, netto-uyoku, as well as a more general audience.

Tokyo Shimbun: vindication for an Article 9 haiku

A woman in Saitama who attempted to publish her haiku calling on people to protect Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution has been vindicated.

She had originally written her haiku at the height of protests against Shinzo Abe’s push to allow the Self-Defense Forces to participate in “collective self-defense” overseas.

According to the Tokyo Shimbun, which does not name the haiku’s author:


The woman’s haiku was selected to for the [Mihashi Community Center’s] July 2014 newsletter at a haiku meeting. However, in June 2014, the Community Center refused to published to haiku, saying that “it was polarizing content, and its publication would damage the fairness and neutrality of the Community Center.” The woman brought an action for damages against [Saitama] city for its refusal to publish the newsletter.


In December 2017, the Supreme Court of Japan rejected final appeals from both the woman and the city government, and affirmed the appeal ruling of the Tokyo High Court, which held that the city had “damaged the author’s personality rights (人格的利益).” While the court held that the city had no obligation to publish the haiku, the city said that it would look into publishing the haiku after its appeal was dismissed.

The full apology from the Mihashi Community Center’s newsletter and the haiku as printed in the newsletter are as follows:

Screenshot 2019-02-01 at 9.25.15 AM

FT: “Carlos Ghosn’s treatment is a stain on ‘liberal’ Japan”

Philippe Riès on what the arrest of Carlos Ghosn, former CEO of Nissan and the brainchild of the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance, shows about Japanese criminal procedure (paywall):

The rope and the denial of bail are standard practice for defendants in Japan, particularly foreigners. But we are entitled to ask Japan what the point is of holding suspects for months in harsh conditions (a poorly heated cell with the light constantly on, except when it is constantly off, from 9pm to 6am), with no right to even a single family visit, a drastic diet, and no access to needed medication.

Is it “liberal” to allow interrogations that last up to eight hours a day, seven days a week, where the same questions will be asked dozens of times, without a lawyer present? Why rearrest the “suspect” on the same charges related to different years or new charges raised just in time to prevent bail?

(For a similar article sans paywall, check out this New York Times article or explanatory video from the Wall Street Journal.)